With school start times in the national spotlight, it is pertinent to understand the importance of sleep in adolescents. Many middle and high school classes in the U.S. start before 8:00 am. The impact of this early wakings causes our youth to be awake before the body’s natural circadian rhythm is ready for the day – leaving them chronically overtired. 1 in 5 teens regularly falls asleep in class. Also, they suffer from behavioral challenges, and they struggle to learn and retain the information that they are taught in these formative years.
Such impacts include:
- Negative academic achievement
- Greater risk for depression
- Increased rate in adolescent car accidents
- Poor physical health
- Increased tardiness and absence
Dr. Judith Owens, M.D., director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center explains, “the symptoms of sleep deprivation and ADHD, including impulsivity and distractibility, mirror each other almost exactly.” Lack of sleep has also been linked to low mood and depression among teenagers.
So the debate continues, what do we do about middle and high school start times? Research indicates the impact on our youth; however, much of the decision lies with factors that impact adults more so than their children. School budgets, effective transportation schedules, sports, work schedules, and use of facilities and fields in the community all have an impact on the decision and ability to adjust school start times for our developing youth. Are we setting our children up to fail at school?
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that teenagers get an average of 9 hours of sleep per night. However, the biological shifts happening in our adolescents during puberty cause a change in their body clock, making it biologically harder to fall asleep before 11:00 pm. Teens are going through the second phase of cognitive maturation. If we add in all of the sports, activities, homework and even a part-time job, coupled with waking before the sun and children don’t have the ability to get the sleep their bodies need each night and sleeping away a Saturday doesn’t fix the damage done.
As research continues to evolve and education in our communities becomes more available, the trend toward later school start times for many students is becoming a reality and the results speak for themselves.
- Seattle, WA School District: Increased final grade averages by 4.5%.
- North Andover, MA School District: Improved overall grades and attendance, a decrease in tardiness and a decrease in discipline referrals.
- Glen Falls, NY School District: Improved school tardiness by 29% and decrease the percentage of students failing courses by 36%.
- Edina, MN School District: Improved attendance and greater extra-curricular participation.
- Fairfax County, VA School District: Test scores remain high, and student attendance is up.
- Fayette County, KY School District: Reduced teen driver crash rates by 16.5% in 2 years.
While the research and evidence continue to validate the change, there is also an economic impact. Dr. Wendy Troxel, a Senior Behavioralist and Social Scientist found significant economic improvement resulted from such changes. Her research showed that after just two years, there would be a projected economic gain of $8.6 billion to the U.S. economy, which would already outweigh the costs per student from delaying school start times to 8.30am.